I come from a family with deep roots in the military. Four of my five brothers served in the Armed Forces. My father served as a pilot in World War II. And I followed in his footsteps, serving in the Air Force for 14 years. To this day, my wife and I both believe that serving our great nation has been the greatest honor of our lives.
Every Veterans Day I reflect on this honor. I consider my own time in the military. I think of the great men and women, the dearest friends in my life, with whom I have had the privilege of serving. I pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And I pray for the families of these heroes who sacrificed their lives for our nation. It is thanks to these brave Americans that we can enjoy our freedoms.
I know firsthand many of the sacrifices necessary to ensure this freedom. Fathers who spend months or years on mission abroad. Young mothers have left to take care of their children, shovel driveways, mow lawns and repair broken cars. Spouses spend birthdays and anniversaries alone. Children go to bed without a goodnight kiss from their mother or father. Parents who say goodbye to their children, hoping – praying – that they will see them again. Brave men and women in the face of fear and danger, defending their country, defending their home.
I encourage all of you to consider these sacrifices and to thank all of our veterans, today and every day.
But this year, I think we should all make those thanks especially evident to the veterans of the war in Afghanistan. And our message to these heroes must be clear: Your service and sacrifice made the world a safer place.
In today’s climate, no problem is immune from politicization. This was particularly true with regard to our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Under the Trump and Biden administrations, I supported the decision to withdraw from our country’s longest war.
Each year resentment and anger against the American presence grew. And every year, we sacrificed blood and treasures for a mission in which we didn’t even know what “success” looked like. So I concluded that it was time to change strategy. I thought we should leave enough troops in the country to defend Bagram Air Base and our Embassy, and continue basic counterterrorism operations, but bring the other troops home.
But, as most would surely agree, the execution of this withdrawal was nothing short of a disaster.
Letting weapons, helicopters, ammunition and classified documents fall into the hands of the Taliban is inexcusable. Not being able to defend our own embassy is a shame. To leave the Afghan soldiers and the interpreters who fought alongside us to fend for themselves is incomprehensible. Leaving American citizens behind enemy lines is unforgivable.
In other words, it was a fundamental failure of leadership. But it would be an injustice to allow this failure to deflect attention from the heroism of those soldiers who fought to protect America for more than 20 years.
President Ronald Reagan once said, “Some people spend their entire lives wondering if they have made a difference in this world. The Marines don’t have that problem. Truer words have never been spoken, and it is our duty to appreciate the positive difference our troops have made not only to the lives of Americans, but to the lives of the world.
We cannot forget the millions of Afghans, including women and girls, who had their first experience of security and freedom. We cannot forget the 2,448 American servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. We cannot forget those who were recently lost in the tragic Kabul bombing, including a brave US Marine from Utah. And we cannot forget those pilots who transported thousands of Americans and Afghan allies to safety in the face of chaos, and the countless acts of bravery we may never experience.
For more than 20 years, it is the heroes who have defended not only our country, but also our ideals. These are the heroes who represent the best of America – those who gave their lives in far off places so that we could experience peace here at home.
These are the heroes we have to thank for our way of life: strong, free and proud.
Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican, represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.